“You cannot change any society unless you take the responsibility for it, unless you see yourself as belonging to it and responsible for changing it.”- Grace Lee Beggs
Law has always played and essential role in bringing social change. Our society comprises of individuals with different personalities. Law and society walk hand in hand to regulate the conduct of these individuals. ‘Love’ is the most beautiful feeling that brings two people together, irrespective of their colour, sex, race, caste or class. And to enhance or explore this emotion called ‘love’, the couples prefer to spend more time with each other. Here is when the concept of ‘marriage’ or a ‘live-in relationship’ comes into picture.
Concept of Live-in relationships
No doubt, the institution of marriage is considered as the foundation of a society. Social validation does have an appeal of its own, it gives greater satisfaction which interests the members of a community more and thereby is well protected by them. However, live-in relationships are the new and up-coming trend among today’s youth that legally allow them to freely live with their partners without any unnecessary pressure of marriages.
Living together means continuous cohabitation between the partners without any responsibilities, commitments or obligations towards each other. There is no law forcibly tying them with one another, and both the partners are free walk out of the relationship, whenever they want. Therefore, marriageable age of an adult couple should not be a relevant factor to deny them their right to live together. The most important element that helps to make such a relationship work is the ‘compatibility’ between both the partners.
The recent order passed by the Punjab & Haryana High Court in the case of Priyapreet Kaur and another v. State of Punjab and others presents this idea with a lot of precision.
Facts of the case
The above-mentioned case, comes out of the circumstances that the girl, aged 19 and the boy, aged 20 knew each other for over a year and were interested in entering into matrimony with each other in future. After their relationship was discovered by the parents of the girl, a fight took place between the families of the boy and girl. The girl was tortured by her parents who later tried to fix her marriage alliance with an unknown person against her wishes. The girl was blackmailed, wrongfully confined in a room, and threatened to end her relationship. However, she was able to escape from her parent's house after which she started to reside with the boy.
As the boy was not of marriageable age they cohabited together in a live-in relationship. When the family members of the girl got the knowledge about the same, they continuously started threatening the couple. Thus, in the light of the above, the adult couple filed a petition before the Punjab and Haryana High Court seeking protection from the family members.
The court held that the parents did not have a say over the decision of their major daughter, it is her right to choose with whom she wants to live or marry. Also, the court said that merely because the boy was not of marriageable age did not form a valid ground to deny the adult couple the right of life and liberty to reside together in a live -in- relationship.
The decision given in the above case is absolutely justified because the Constitution of our country guarantees every person the right to life enshrined under article 21, which also includes the freedom to choose one’s partner as an integral facet. It is not the society that should define the terms on how a person should live his or her life. When two people decide to live together, they get to know about each other's habits, nature, financial capacity, physical & emotional strengths, family background, etc and on the basis of that they can thoroughly figure out if they want to spend their entire life with each other or not.
Following the above notion, in the present case too, the girl’s parents cannot force their adult daughter to live her life on their terms or to dictate how and with whom she should spend her life with. She is a major and well within her right to decide what she wants for herself even if it is to take a step to be in a live-in-relationship with the boy who is also a major, though may not be of marriageable age. If both the partners are adults, they have a right to live their life on their own terms as they deem fit.
In the case of Shafin Jahan vs. Asokan K.M , the Supreme Court emphasized on ‘the right of choice of an adult’. The court said that, “this right cannot be taken away from a major person other than a procedurally fair, just and reasonable law. Essential to the fundamental right of liberty guaranteed by the constitution, it is the ability of each individual to take decision or make choice on matters central to their own happiness. The Constitution subsist for its followers as well as for its agnostics. It allows each individual to lead life or pursue a faith which they seek to adhere. Matters of ideas and ideologies, of love and partnership are aspects of one’s own identity. The law and the society may regulate the conditions but they have no role to play in determining the choice of one’s partner.” Judicial treatment of Live-in relationships
Judiciary has neither expressly promoted nor forbidden live-in relationships in India. It is not considered as an offense as there is no direct statute till date dealing with it or prohibiting such kind of relationship between two adults. However, the court has explained the concept of live-in relationship through different judgments. The judiciary keeps in mind the social and constitutional values prevailing in the society while deciding these cases so as to ensure that there is no miscarriage of justice. Following cases clarify the idea of the courts:
In the case of Payal Sharma v. Superintendent Nari NiketanKandri Vihar Agra and others , the Allahabad High court bench comprising of Justices M. Katju and R.B Mishra said that “A man and a woman being adults can go where ever they want, can even live together without getting married, if they wish to”. The court further said that such a relationship may be regarded as immoral by society, but it is not illegal because law and morality are different from each other.
In a similar judgement given in the case of Patel and others, the Supreme court opined that live-in relationship between two adults without any formal matrimony cannot be considered as an offense under law.
In another landmark Judgement given by Supreme Court in the case of S. Khushboo v. Kanniammal , it was held that a live-in relationship between two majors comes under the purview of right to life enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The Court further held that a living in relationship is permissible and this act by two major adults cannot be regarded as illegal or unlawful.
With changing social norms of legitimacy in every society, the ideas and practices which were considered as illegitimate in the past may be considered as legitimate in the present day. Live-in relationship is also one such social taboo which requires encouragement as it allows the partners to get a chance to understand one another, to live together without any guilt, away from any social obligations which in turn can help reduce the divorce rate and the mental torture that families go through after forcing their children into arranged marriages. However, due to the social stigma attached to live-ins’ the people of our country refuse to accept relationships of these kind.
Also, the legal status of such relationships in India is not very clear. There must be a separate specific statute concerning this current issue so that rights of living adult partners, as well as all the people likely to be affected by them can be protected. Along with that, there is also a need to create awareness among live-in couples regarding the legal consequences which can arise out of such an arrangement.
 CRWP-10828-2020 (O&M)
 (2018) 16 SCC 368
 AIR 2001 Allahabad 254
 (2010) 5 SCC 600
Merely Because The Boy Is Not Of Marriageable Age, The Right Of A Major Couple To Live-Together Can't Be Denied: Punjab And Haryana HC; https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/major-girl-boy-not-marriageable-age-right-to-be-in-live-in-relationship-parents-cant-compel-punjab-and-haryana-hc-167753 ; accessed on 31st December, 2020; 1:20 am
‘Live in relationships and Indian Judiciary’ https://www.scconline.com/blog/post/2019/01/23/live-in-relationship-and-indian-judiciary/; accessed on 31st December, 2020; 2:15 am
‘Live in relationships and Indian Judiciary’ http://www.legalservicesindia.com/article/1408/Live-in--Relationship-and-Indian-Judiciary.html; accessed on 1st January, 2020; 3:25 pm